The translation of beliefs, principles and ideas into language is an imprecise exercise. Words have subtle connotations within themselves and to each speaker. When speaking on the subject of morality, how does speech differ across denominations -- and even in the professional sector? More importantly, who has the best rabbi/priest/lawyer joke?
We spoke with Rabbi Jeremy Barras of Temple Beth El, Pastor Edward Sheridan of Saint Gabriel Catholic Church and Personal Injury Attorney, (the appropriately named) Cynthia Farbman Justice.
CL: How do you define virtue?
Rabbi: In Judaism, we have the Mitzvoth. When we follow the commandments that God has set out for us, when we fulfill God's divine will, then we're doing what we're supposed to be doing.
Priest: The power to help people get through life in a positive way. Meekness, kindness, forgiveness -- those are all virtues.
Lawyer: Being a positive force in the world.
How about sin?
Rabbi: When God creates humans he gives everyone the opportunity to choose good or evil. He lays out very clearly what the Mitzvoth are, what the commandments are. Some of the commandments are negative and when you transgress them you are sinning. When you don't follow the positive commandments, like observing the Sabbath, that would be a sin as well.
Priest: Thought, word or deed, which is against the law of God.
Lawyer: It's a personal perspective. I wouldn't even presume.
Do you believe in the devil?
Rabbi: Not really. There is a character called Hasatan who's mention in the book of Job. He's really considered more of an adversary of God, not the devil. So no, we don't believe in that.
Priest: It's like St. Peter tells us in his letter -- the devil is like the roaring lion seeking whoever to take and devour. In other words, I think there is a personification of evil in the person of the fallen angel who we call Lucifer. He is going about in mysterious ways to entice us from God.
What is your favorite piece of Scripture or Torah portion?
Rabbi: I like the story when Moses really becomes a leader in the beginning of Exodus. It's the point when he meets his wife and has a son that he transforms from someone who was proud and living in the Egyptian palace with the Pharaoh into realizing his Jewish identity and becoming an Israelite.
Priest: The words of our Lord, not my will, but thine be done.
What is the most memorable sermon that you've given. And, for Ms. Justice, what sermon would you give if you were a pastor?
Rabbi: Two years ago on Yom Kippur, I spoke about what people do that reminds them that they're Jewish. It made people question how they relate to Judaism. Do they understand the meaning of the Mitzvoth and how they fit it in their lives?
Priest: You're asking the wrong person for that. You'll have to ask the people that listen.
Lawyer: A society without art is a society without a soul.
What's wrong with society -- in five words or less?
Rabbi: Different people can't get along.
Priest: Secularism. Materialism. Relativism. Hedonism. Greed.
Lawyer: People don't listen to each other.
Do you have a favorite joke?
Rabbi: The Chief Rabbi of Israel visits the Pope. He's in the Pope's office in the Vatican and he sees a gold phone on his desk. He says to the Pope, "What's with the that gold phone? It's so fancy." The Pope says, "That's a really special phone. It calls God." The Rabbi says, "That's amazing! Do you mind if I make a call? I've always wanted to talk to God." "You're welcome to," the Pope tells him, "but it's very expensive. It's a $1,000 a minute." Well, several years later when the Pope made his historic visit to Jerusalem, he went to visit his friend the Rabbi. He went into his office and saw a gold phone. And the Pope says, "Oh, I see you had one of those phones to God installed?" "After seeing yours, I had to get one," says the Rabbi. "I'd like to make a call," says the Pope, "but I didn't bring any money." "Don't worry," the Rabbi tells him, "it's a local call."
Priest: I do, but it's irrelevant. I enjoy jokes, but I'm a very poor joke teller.
Lawyer: People always tell them to me. Lately it hasn't been as bad as it used to be. There's so many better things to do.